UT Institute for Research, Innovation, Synergy and Health Equity Selects Two Recipients of 2015 Career Development Awards

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Dr. Gregory Vidal and Dr. Kunal Singhal
Gregory Vidal, MD, PhD, (left) assistant professor, Department of Medicine-Hematology, UTHSC College of Medicine, and Kunal Singhal, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy, UTHSC College of Health Professions, are winners of the 2015 Career Development Awards from the UT Institute for Research, Innovation, Synergy and Health Equity (iRISE). Each will receive up to $130,000 annually over two to three years. The program connects researchers, at an early point in their career, with mentoring and training, provides a foundation in biostatistics and biomedical informatics, and aims to instill an interprofessional and interdisciplinary career vision.

Each to Receive Up to $130,000 Annually Over Two to Three Years

The UT Institute for Research, Innovation, Synergy and Health Equity (iRISE) at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has selected two winners of its 2015 Career Development Awards, also known as the KL2 Program: Kunal Singhal, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy, UTHSC College of Health Professions, and Gregory Vidal, MD, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Medicine-Hematology, UTHSC College of Medicine. Each will receive up to $130,000 annually over two to three years.

The iRISE Career Development Awards Program, also known as the KL2 Program, connects researchers, at an early point in their career, with mentoring and training, provides a foundation in biostatistics and biomedical informatics, and aims to instill an interprofessional and interdisciplinary career vision. This program is designed to further iRISE’s goal of understanding and eliminating disparities in health and health care, and is modeled after the National Institutes of Health awards program offered through designated Clinical Translational Science Award Hubs. All award recipients have already earned doctoral degrees, and junior faculty, especially those from underrepresented groups, are encouraged to apply.

“The KL2 awards are an important component of the overall iRISE program because they provide a framework for us to train the next generation of clinical and translational researchers,” said Christopher M. Waters, PhD, director of the Career Development Awards Program. “The rigorous training and mentored career development will help promote an interprofessional workforce that is able to advance science and help address the disparities in health outcomes that drive much of the chronic disease in Memphis,” he said. Dr. Waters also serves as professor and vice chair of Physiology, professor of Medicine-Pulmonary, and professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Biomedical Engineering at UTHSC.

Holding a terminal degree in kinesiology with a specialization in biomechanics, Dr. Singhal is a licensed physical therapist conducting research on gait and biomechanics, focusing on geriatric and amputee populations. He has experience developing biomechanical models and practiced at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. With support from the iRISE grant, Dr. Singhal will employ an innovative virtual reality system to study missed steps and stumbles in elderly and disabled populations. The falls associated with these gait defects are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal accidents in Americans over 65 years of age.

With advanced degrees in structural and cellular biology, Dr. Vidal is a clinician-scientist at the UT-West Cancer Center and co-director of their BioBank initiative. He did his Internal medicine, medical oncology and postdoctoral research training at Stanford University, and is experienced in clinical trial design and execution. Dr. Vidal has a particular interest in breast cancer. His iRISE-supported project will explore resistance to standard chemotherapy treatments of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) tumors with high expression of the WNT10B protein network. It is believed that the higher rate of WNT10B expression in tumors commonly found in young women and women of African descent may be a driver of their poor treatment outcomes.

The 2014 Career Development Award winners were Justin Gatwood, PharmD, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, UTHSC College of Pharmacy; and Diego Hijano, MD, a postdoctoral fellow in pediatric infectious diseases, Department of Pediatrics, UTHSC College of Medicine, and Department of Infectious Diseases, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They are also receiving research support of up to $130,000 each annually for two to three years.

Dr. Gatwood is exploring the influence of race on medication adherence and health outcomes in veterans with diabetes. This study involves building a unique dataset among Veterans Affairs patients with diabetes on oral pharmacotherapy, and assessing the resulting group of patients for initial and ongoing adherence to their prescribed therapies. Comparisons are being made both statistically and geographically, overall and by race.

Dr. Hijano is studying a key aspect of the mucosal immune response (IgA production), its control and capabilities during infancy in response to the major pathogen of infancy — RSV (respiratory syncytial virus, the leading viral respiratory pathogen in infants). The goal is to gain greater understanding of the host immune system at the time of initial infection – infancy.

Founded in 2014, the University of Tennessee Institute for Research, Innovation, Synergy and Health Equity (iRISE) focuses on bridging the gap from basic and clinical research to clinical and community practice. The high degree of health and health care disparities in the Mid-South provides both a challenge and an opportunity for iRISE researchers to engage in transformative research.